Black-footed ferret release. (Source: Arizona Game and Fish Department)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -
October signifies a special landmark for the black-footed ferret population in Arizona, it was 20 years ago that the endangered species was reintroduced to the state.
The Double O Ranch, outside Seligman, in northwestern Arizona became the third privately owned release site for the black-footed ferrets, according to a recent AZ Game and Fish Department release.
'This release was made possible by a Safe Harbor Agreement, a newer conservation option that aims to enlist the help of non-federal landowners to conserve species. We hope our new partnership with the Double O Ranch will lead to the establishment of Arizona’s third population and contribute to national recovery goals,” said Jennifer Cordova, the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s black-footed ferret program supervisor, in the release.
Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct in the U.S., however in 1981 a small colony was discovered in Wyoming. Disease had decimated the population, until only about 18 were alive. Officials say these remaining black-footed ferrets were captured to begin a captive breeding program to help save the species. According to the AZGFD release the last time the species was seen in the state was between Williams and Flagstaff in 1931.
Descendents of the original 18 ferrets have been reintroduced to sites across the west, including Aubrey Valley, just outside of Seligman. In 2008 Aubrey Valley was declared a successful reintroduction site as the population had become self-sustaining and no longer required augmentation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to biologists there are between 800 to 1,000 individual ferrets living in the wild.
Black-footed ferrets look similar to domestic pet ferrets, but are a different species and are the only ferret native to North America. They can grow up to two feet long and can weigh up to two and a half pounds. Female ferrets can give birth to three to five kits each year.
Arizona's black-footed ferret reintroduction program is a joint effort of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Phoenix Zoo, U.S.D.A. APHIS Wildlife Services, Hualapai Nation, Navajo Nation, Arizona State Land Department, Babbitt Ranches and the Cholla Cattle Company.